Minnesota Law

Spring 2021
Raising the Bar

Alumni News

Wendy Tien '93

Wendy Tien ’93 Appointed Chief Judge of Minnesota Tax Court

Wendy Tien ’93 was appointed chief judge of the Minnesota Tax Court by Gov. Tim Walz in March.

Tien was appointed to the court in September 2019. She previously served as tax division manager in the office of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison ’90.

Tien is a former deputy assistant director in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Oversight, where she led a federal regulatory unit that promotes consumer financial protection. She previously was a partner with Baltimore-based Shapiro Sher Guinot & Sandler and an associate with New York-based Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro.

With Tien’s appointment, for the first time in state history the chiefs of the Minnesota Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Office of Administrative Hearings, Workers’ Compensation Court, and Tax Court are all women.

 “Representation on the bench matters, and a more diverse judicial branch equates to a more representative government for our communities,” said  Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan. “I am proud to see such distinguished women serving Minnesotans as chief judges.” 

Cherée Johnson ’03 Becomes General Counsel of W.R. Grace

Cherée Johnson ’03 was appointed senior vice president, general counsel, corporate secretary, and chief ethics and compliance officer of W.R. Grace.

Cheree Johnson '03

“Cherée is a results-oriented business leader. Her deep legal knowledge and broad experience make her an exceptional addition to our leadership team,” said Grace’s president and CEO, Hudson La Force.

Johnson was previously vice president and deputy general counsel of Baltimore-based food company McCormick, where she worked for six years. She has also held a variety of roles at such companies as Gerson Lehrman Group, Kraft Heinz, Cargill, and 3M.

Minneapolis Fed General Counsel Niel Willardson ’87 Named Fellow of Institute for Law and Economics

Niel Willardson ’87, general counsel and senior vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, was named the first fellow of the Law School’s Institute for Law and Economics. 

Niel Willardson '87

Willardson brings his real-world experience from three decades at the Federal Reserve to the classroom. He has been instrumental in building connections between Fed leaders and the Law School’s students and faculty, said Claire Hill, professor and James L. Krusemark Chair in Law, and associate director of the Institute for Law and Economics.

“Niel is a treasure. Everyone who is part of our law school community should know how valuable Niel has been to us over the years,” Hill said. “Even though Niel is in a very senior position at the Minneapolis Fed, he approaches his relationship with the Law School with enthusiasm for what we do. He is curious about what we think about and how our scholarship can help inform what he does day-to-day and how what he does day-to-day can inform our scholarship.”

Naming Willardson a fellow acknowledges his enduring ties to Minnesota Law and sets the stage to deepen the relationship he has with the school, students, faculty, the broader University community, and beyond. Minnesota Law and Willardson are exploring options for how it will work, Hill adds.

Kassius Benson ’96 Tapped to Lead Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office

Kassius Benson '96

Minneapolis criminal defense attorney Kassius Benson ’96 was appointed to lead the Hennepin County Public Defender's office. 

Benson worked as a public defender in Minnesota and in Washington, D.C., before starting his own criminal defense practice in Minneapolis 17 years ago. He also served as a law clerk in the Hennepin County Public Defender’s Office immediately after graduating from Minnesota Law.

Benson said that one of his goals as chief will be to diversify the office.

Aalok Sharma ’13 Selected as Chair of the ABA Sports Division

Stinson attorney Aalok Sharma ’13 was appointed chair of the Sports Division of the American Bar Association Forum on the Entertainment and Sports Industries. 

Aalok Sharma '13

As chair of the division, Sharma oversees efforts to continue the division’s growth and to examine novel legal and business issues in the sports world, including those addressing amateur and collegiate athletes, sports unions, teams, leagues, venue management, sports data, esports, and legalized sports wagering. 

In 2019, Sharma was recognized by the ABA as a leading sports lawyer of the next generation. His sports law practice has been featured by the Hennepin Lawyer, Minnesota Lawyer, U.S. Bets, Sport Techie, WCCO Radio, and more. He also sits on the board of directors of the Minnesota Twins Community Fund and is a frequent contributor to Stinson’s quarterly sports newsletter, At the Corners